Finding Grace When You Least Expect It – From Reluctant Freshman to Passionate Trustee
College years are the most important years of your life.
While most heads would nod in agreement with that statement, Butch Shook would likely follow with a fist pump, a few rounds of claps, and a hearty “amen.”
For Shook, his four years at Grace College from 1968 to 1972 were the years he grew as a student, an athlete, and a professional. But most importantly, they were the years he encountered Jesus for the first time.
Eighteen-year-old Shook showed up at Grace with little knowledge that it was a Christian college. A week into his freshman year, he wanted to run for the hills. But looking back now, he’s so glad he didn’t, because his four years at Grace changed life as he knew it.
Athletics as the Front Door
If Grace was the means God used to bring Shook to himself, athletics was the vehicle to get him there. Originally from Pleasant Hill, Ohio, a town of about 1,000 people, Shook attended a small school where athletics were central. With a class of 63 students, many athletes had to play multiple sports to keep the rosters full. Shook played basketball and baseball.
Gary and Connie Grove, graduates of Grace College, came onto the athletic scene in Pleasant Hill during Shook’s senior year as a coach and physical education teacher. Eager advocates of their alma mater, the Groves told their students about Grace College and the varsity sports available. When Shook expressed interest, they took him to a Grace basketball game against Huntington University.
“After that game, for no reason outside of athletics, I let them know I would like to check out Grace,” said Shook.
On his first campus visit, he met with the Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Chet Kammerer, and was amazed by his kindness. Kammerer and his wife even invited Shook over for a home cooked dinner.
“It meant a lot to me that they took the time to do that,” said Shook. “Coach Kamerer was instrumental in recruiting me to Grace, and we still stay in touch to this day. He made a tremendous impact on my life.”
Despite the biblical hospitality he experienced at Grace, the fact that it was a Christian college was not on Shook’s radar.
“I had no idea, outside of sports, what Grace was all about,” said Shook. “I knew it was a ‘religious’ institution, but I had no concept of how that impacted campus life.”
Once he arrived on campus in the fall of 1968, Shook was in for a surprise.
”I was blown away by the presence of Christianity on campus,” he said. “I would go to class and the professor would open in prayer. There was chapel every day. There were fall and spring days of prayer. I would go to the cafeteria and all the students had their heads bowed, and I’m thinking, ‘What are they doing?’”
A few days in, he called his parents and said, “You have to get me out of here. These are a bunch of holy-rollers.”
Despite his attempt to leave, three things kept him at Grace. First, he didn’t want to risk being drafted into the Vietnam War. Secondly, he didn’t want to return to his small town and be taunted for not making it through college. And finally, he wanted to play basketball, because after all, it was the reason he came.
Relationships that Last a Lifetime
Shook decided that if he wasn’t “all in” on the Christian culture, he would be “all in” on academics. Whenever he wasn’t playing ball, you could find him in the library studying away for his next exam. While distancing himself from the faith on the outside, he was still curious on the inside.
“I observed people,” said Shook. “I saw certain things as sincere, and other things that were not as sincere.”
His basketball teammates were some of the most crucial influences, as he had an up-close view of their lives.
“Jim Kessler was a junior on the team while I was a freshman, and he was really a great mentor to me,” said Shook. “I could tell that his faith was genuine, and his influence in my life made a big difference.”
Slowly but surely, Shook’s walls toward this Christian way of life were falling down. Halfway through Shook’s freshman year, the Lord captured his heart in the quietness of his dorm room, and he accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
“Until that point, I would have claimed to be a ‘Christian,’” said Shook. “But I had never recognized that I was in need of grace because of my sinful nature.”
Over the course of his first year, Shook had befriended a few other freshmen on the basketball team who were not Christians. After he surrendered his life, one of the other young men did as well, acknowledging that Shook’s example was instrumental in his decision to follow Christ.
While his teammates were impactful, the most important relationship Shook formed at Grace was not with another basketball player, but with a cheerleader, Sandy Dillon.
Shook met Sandy on a trip to Chattanooga for an NCCAA Tournament his sophomore year, and the two hit it off immediately. The summer of their junior year, they were married, and Shook began his senior year with a new roommate.
Years later, two of their three children, Rob and Blake, would follow in their parents’ footsteps as Grace Lancers.
Business Accomplished with Character
Following graduation, the director of admissions, Ron Henry, hired Shook as Grace College’s first-ever admission counselor. After a year in that role, Shook knew that he wanted to pursue a career in the business world.
He wrote a letter to Hobart, a welding equipment and consumables company he had worked at two summers of college, to inquire if they had a position open for him. To his great excitement, they responded with an invitation to be a part of their training program. Little did he know at the time, that position would be the start of a 25-year run at Hobart and a 47-year career in the welding industry. After a few company transitions, Shook was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
The American Welding Society (AWS) in Miami, a professional society for welding across the country and internationally, was in search of an executive director and CEO, and Shook was selected for the position. He was responsible for growing the not-for-profit organization from 90 employees to 130 and growing revenues from $15 million to more than $40 million. Not to mention, he was afforded the opportunity to travel around the world for the International Institute of Welding (IIW) conferences and AWS business opportunities.
While the travels were exciting, Shook focused most of his time and energy on investing in his people and instilling the principles of character, competence, and service – the same values that impacted him at Grace.
Shook retired from the AWS after 17 years of service with the title of executive director emeritus. Shortly after, he accepted the invitation to join the Grace College Board of Trustees, on which he still serves enthusiastically today. Most recently, Shook played the vital role of chairing the presidential search committee.
As he returns to campus each year for board meetings, Shook is reminded of the crucial decision he made to stay at Grace in 1968. “I am amazed as to how the Lord led me to Grace, how I graduated, and everything that has transpired since. I am extremely blessed and so thankful for the opportunities.”
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